October 23, 2009

Redskins '09: Dead Team Walking

By the end their embarrassing week three loss to the Detroit Lions, a team doing its best to threaten the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ all-time NFL futility standard, it was becoming clear the 2009 Washington Redskins were not going to contend for a championship.

By the end of their stultifying, belly-up week six loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, winless in 2009 and losers of 28 of their last 30 coming in—compounded by the Redskins brass’ knee-jerk reaction to humiliate Head Coach Jim Zorn, “strongly suggesting” he cede playcalling duties to a man five years removed from the game, living out of a suitcase and (presumably) still busy learning the names of the players he will be directing this weekend—it was clear the 2009 Redskins were not only going to fail to make the playoffs, but have a chance to go down in history as the single most embarrassing Redskins team in the storied history of the franchise.

That isn’t hyperbole. There is more to being a “bad team” than taking up regular residence on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Every team goes through hard times. The pendulum inexorably swings. Eras come and go. But few modern sports franchises have wandered as far off the reservation as the 2009 Washington Redskins in such vital areas as professionalism, direction, accountability ... basic competence.

There are a million earnest opinions out there as to why and how this train wreck came to pass; even more about what ought to be done about it. What I keep coming back to this week, however, is exactly how emotionally invested fans of this team will approach the long remainder a lost campaign.

With the competitive part of the season realistically over, just six weeks in, what exactly does a passionate fan of this team watch for? How does he view each game, each month, the totality? It isn’t like we are in week thirteen and there are just three meaningless “playing out the string” games left. There are ten games left—an NFL eternity.

Now before you get upset with me, oh positive and ever-faithful burgundy and gold aficionado, for the record, yes, I recognize there could still be a midnight call from the governor.

Perhaps newly installed playcaller Sherman Lewis will find a rhythm and rapport with Jason Campbell that will at long last allow / motivate / cattle-prod the strong-armed young quarterback to throw the damn ball on time.

Maybe mercurial running back Clinton Portis will look in his hall closet for a new antihero outfit or pithy Monday-after quote, and instead find the step he lost two years ago.

Perhaps rumored young pass-catchers Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis will have epiphanies, understand they are not facing Oklahoma St., Purdue or Stanford this weekend, and finally dial it up to NFL speed.

Maybe star-crossed Jim Zorn will discover that in not calling plays, he gets a fuller sense and feel for the flow of the NFL game from a head coach’s perspective, “figures it out” and emerges as a top-flight NFL sideline leader.

Perhaps grumpy old man defensive coordinator Greg Blache will decide, “hell, only ten weeks left before Miller Time; think I’m gonna just turn the dogs loose.” What’s the worst that could happen ... the Redskins could lose?

So yeah, it’s possible. It could happen.

Just don’t hold your breath.

What seems far more likely that the 2010 Washington Redskins will hit the field next September with a new head coach, new coordinators and position coaches, new offensive and defensive schemes, a new quarterback, a new lead running back and other skill position players, a revamped linebacker corps ... perhaps even a reworked offensive line and—a man can dream—front office structure.

So what will this fan do with the next ten weeks? I know one thing I won’t do: With the sea changes sure to come, watching this year’s team for indicators of future success is next to meaningless.

On the aforementioned Malcolm Kelly, to name just one of many possible examples ... if the Redskins were going to be heading into Year Three of Zorn/Campbell Era next year, Kelly’s development the rest of this year would be highly pertinent. If next year brings a new system, new coach/coordinator, quarterback, line, etc., as seems likely, how Kelly fares in this modified West Coast Offense, triggered by Campbell or Todd Collins (and called by Sherman Lewis or whoever else is handed a headset between now and then), could mean absolutely nothing.

But I am going to watch the games. Why? Quite possibly because I’m a fool. I’d like to think, however, it’s because I’m a fan—it’s what we do. And because, be they championship-caliber, well-oiled machine or broken-down heap of scrapmetal, they remain my Washington Redskins.

One good thing about getting (a little) older is that perspective—not to mention vision—changes.

When I squint (or drink) enough, truth is I can still “see” Lombardi and Jurgensen on the RFK sidelines.

I can “see” George Allen and this Over the Hill Gang overachieving, kicking Dallas’ ass in the '72 NFC Championship Game, on their way to a date with destiny and the only undefeated team in modern NFL history.

I can “see” Dexter Manley steamrolling Danny White in the '82 NFC Championship Game, and John Riggins sloughing off Don McNeal on his way to Super Bowl immortality.

I can “see” Doug Williams throwing ropes through, over and around the Denver Broncos in what remains the greatest football high of my life ... the magic and madness that was the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII.

I can “see” the overwhelming machine that was the 1991 Championship team, the culmination of the once-in-a-lifetime fusion of men and circumstance orchestrated by young football genius that was Joe Gibbs.

For those of us who have watched the cartoonishly inept Redskins offense of recent vintage, the words of venerable SI writer Rick Telander, describing that offense after it dismantled the Detroit Lions 41-10 in the NFC Championship are particularly poignant ...

A gigantic Redskin-red farm machine, a shiny, newfangled thresher with zillions of arms and gears fully hydraulic, with AC, AM-FM radio, CD player, tinted glass, the works—methodically rolling up and down a field, ripping something silver and blue to pieces. At the wheel sits quarterback Mark Rypien, and every now and then he peers out of the cab, adjusts the toothpick in his mouth, sees all is well and turns up the volume on the rap version of Hail to the Redskins.

And yes, I can also “see” the precipitous fall from grace that followed Gibbs’ retirement after the ‘92 season, and the steady descent into mediocrity, irrelevance and now embarrassment that has befallen this proud franchise ever since.

This coming Monday night my favorite team will hit their home field under the national TV lights, and will in all likelihood get rolled by a Philadelphia Eagles team that does possess underlying organizational competence. The difference in the two programs will be stark, and particularly painful to those of us old enough to remember a time not that long ago when it was the burgundy and gold that set the standard for NFL professionalism, class, competence and their inevitable byproduct—success.

My instincts may be conflicted at times. In the privacy of my own darker moments, I will probably find myself thinking that the Redskins should just go ahead and get blown out, finish the year 2-14, and have things spiral so preposterously out of hand that owner Daniel “I Seriously Don’t Care What You Think—I’m 44 Years Old And Own The Washington Frickin’ Redskins” Snyder finally finds it in himself to do what every thinking person outside of the Executive Suite at Redskins Park knows has to be done ... swallow his pride, subsume his ego and turn operation of his favorite asset over to someone qualified for the job.

But I also know that during those few hours when the game is being played, I will be unable to really wish for a loss. It would go against everything I have spent a lifetime building ... an unyielding, if sorely tested, desire to see “my” team, wearing “my” colors, do itself proud.

So for ten more gamedays I will squint at the men currently wearing those colors, pretend they care about them as much as I do, and hope for a taste of victory.

Then I will turn the page and steel myself for the purge.

Because unless the gridiron gods are truly just toying with us, and plan to snap Their fingers on our behalf very soon, what I will be watching for the remainder of 2009 is not so much a team, but a bunch of guys, staring down a long cold prison corridor toward a certain fate ... and the phone lines are down.

Dramatic? Sure. But dammit, some of us still care.


Brokenstriker said...

Outstanding! I'm right there with you ... I can see them too.

Sasparilla Gretsch said...

Glad to see you back, Om. This piece was well worth the wait. You sum up the feelings of Redskins' fans perfectly.

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